Submission to the House Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources’ Inquiry into Developing Australia’s Space Industry
the Australian Institute of Physics Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics Group Committee
Since the formation of the Australian Space Agency in 2018, the Australian Space Sector has received numerous injections of Federal funding in the form of specific grants aimed at achieving various objectives; including providing opportunities for Australian businesses to support NASA’s Moon to Mars Program, improving international collaboration and supporting growth in Australian space infrastructure. These support mechanisms ultimately have the short-term goal of growing Australia’s space sector by 20,000 jobs by 2030, which is a significant task. The AIP STSP Group Committee strongly supports these incentives. As these short-term strategies begin to take effect, our Committee would like to provide comment on “Future research capacity, workforce development and job creation” in the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.
University R&D Underpins Industry
Research and Development (R&D) are key enablers for industry. Australia’s space industry aspirations strongly depend on the vibrancy of Australia’s space R&D sector, particularly within its Universities. While the current strategy of supporting SMEs may be effective in growing the Australian space industry in the short-term, the lack of a long-term strategy for growing and maintaining Australia’s space research capacity, and the flow-on impacts on space-related training/education, severely weakens Australia’s long-term prospects in the international space market.
Long-term Support Needed for Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics R&D
A long-term strategy needs to be developed to support and nurture Australia’s space research capacity, particularly in fields that study the environments used in space activities; i.e., the “Solar-Terrestrial” or the “near-Earth space” environment. The specific research areas that deepen our knowledge of the Solar-Terrestrial environment and its impact on space infrastructure and activities include; Heliophysics, Space Weather, Space Situational Awareness, Mesospheric, Thermospheric, Ionospheric and Magnetospheric Physics.
Flow-on Benefits of STSP Research to the Space Industry
Around the world, the health of STSP research is maintained by targeted research programs and research funding allocations by the respective governments/space agencies – e.g., the Heliophysics Division within NASA and the Space Weather Office in ESA. These programs not only help to advance knowledge of the space environment, but they also boost and maintain research excellence in key fields of national importance. The benefits of these research programs flow on to commercial space activities via mechanisms, such as;
- More accurate satellite mission planning and design resources,
- Improved short- and long-term space weather forecasts,
- Improved orbit predictions and orbit monitoring capabilities,
- Providing highly trained undergraduate and postgraduate students for the workforce, and
- Increased resilience for satellite positioning, electrical power, resource pipeline and other important infrastructures that are directly impacted by the near-Earth space environment.
Across the wider Australian and international economies, the number of applications relying on space-based information and services is booming. As a result, the scientific and technological advancements in space research will flow on benefit wider society in a variety of ways.
Building a stronger space research capacity
Australia’s recent space industry successes and growth are the culmination of more than half a century of strong research activity in Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics in Australia. Unfortunately, Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics research has experienced very low funding levels for many years, and consequently, has suffered a mass exodus to countries with more secure space research support. A national long-term space research strategy would encourage Australian space researchers to stay and incentivise Australian space ex-pats to return.
University R&D Creates Australian Pathways For Skilled Space Workforce
As highlighted above, funding Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics research has many positive flow-on effects that support the space industry, but perhaps the most important long-term impact is the injection of highly skilled graduates and research scientists from Universities into the workforce that go on to start SMEs and drive new initiatives. While the CSIRO plays an important role in conducting R&D for/with industry in Australia, the University sector is better equipped to strengthening the space sector in the long-term through research and the associated injection of highly skilled people into the workforce. By providing a national long-term strategy for space research, the long-term workforce development and job creation in the space sector can be assured. Without a strategic national direction and support for University-based Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics research, the competitiveness and the long-term viability of the Australian space industry will be at risk.
That the Federal Government develop a long-term strategy to support the foundational Solar-Terrestrial and Space Physics research activities in Universities that make Commercial, Civil, and Government space activities not only possible, but profitable and sustainable.